Professional sports provide a public and fruitful opportunity for the advancement of equal-rights issues, but last week's comments by former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe suggest that players still risk martyrdom if they stand up for something more than X's and O's. In his lengthy Deadspin article "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot," Kluwe stated that despite his stellar performance, the Vikings released him due to his public support of same-sex marriage. Kluwe's allegations may never be proven, but they've made for a watershed shamming in sports, where discussions of sexual identity – its broadening definitions, changing level of acceptance and increasing role in setting an example for the rest of society – continue to accelerate. And momentum was clearly gained in the past 12 months. Although he's not currently signed to a team, NBA center Jason Collins became the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out as gay. And Brittney Griner, the WNBA's Number One overall draft pick in 2013, began her career by identifying as gay. Slowly, with increasing support – and the inevitability of openly gay athletes in locker rooms – it seems that history will reflect favorably on even the most outspoken athletes. Here are 17 more who openly support same-sex marriage. —Hunter Atkins
Eagles LB Connor Barwin is openly proud of his gay brother and supports his rights to marry. After Outsports wrote about his tweets supporting same-sex marriage, Barwin reached out for an interview, making him the first pro team sport athlete to ever contact Outsports to talk about gay issues. On being inspired by Obama, Barwin said, "It showed that even though there's no changes to the law, that what Obama did. . . had an effect on me and made me feel like I should publicly say something to show my support too."
This kinetic, 6'8" forward was raised by two mothers in Newark, New Jersey. And last year he partnered with One Colorado, a LGBT advocacy group, to push for the legalization of civil unions in the state. "A lot of people [are] saying civil union," Faried said at the time. "I don't like it being called that because I can get married to a female and it can be called a marriage. Why can't a female be married to a female and male be married to a male and it be called a marriage? You still have the same thing, same love and happiness."
Lundqvist openly supports the NHL's partnership with the You Can Play Project, the year-old advocacy organization that fights homophobia in sports. When asked about his work with the project, Lundqvist said, "For me, it's obvious that everyone should have the same rights and ability to play the game. It doesn't matter race or sexual orientation."
When Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts came out as gay in May 2011 – becoming the first active executive in America's four major sports to do so – NBA all-star Steve Nash pledged his support. Soon after, Nash made a video for the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign. "A growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting married, I'm proud to be one of them," he says in the video.
Mayweather tweeted his support for gay marriage in May 2012, backing President Barack Obama after he announced his endorsement.
It looked like Augustus, a No. 1 overall draft pick and two-time WNBA champion, and her fiancée LaTaya Varner would have to settle for a wedding in Iowa. But despite the staunch anti-gay headline-grabbing efforts of Representative Michele Bachmann, last year Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage, fostering a heartwarming sports story. "It will mean a lot to me," Augustus said of being able to get married in the state she has called home her entire professional career. "But I first want to thank everyone else. People thank me for being a voice, but there are so many other people who went door to door and went to churches to convince them it was the right thing to do and made it possible."
In 2011, Taylor started a foundation, Athlete Ally, which encourages "all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression." The NBA is the first major sports league that will receive sensitivity training from Taylor's organization.
Although Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo broke the ice in 2009, Fujita quickly joined the initial wave of discussions in about gay marriage in the NFL. "I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else," he said. Two years later, Fujita continued his LGBT advocacy, taping a PSA for the Americans for Marriage Equality initiative.
Ayanbadejo became the NFL's first outspoken supporter of marriage equality after he blogged about same-sex marriages for The Huffington Post in 2009, made a video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality and donated Ravens tickets to the cause, which sparked controversy with Baltimore County Delegate Emmett Burns, Jr. Burns wrote a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti demanding that Bisciotti "take the necessary action. . . to inhibit such expressions from your employee." That letter was widely criticized as an effort to infringe on Ayanbadejo's right to free speech.
Avery, 33, is believed to be the first athlete to support same-sex marriage in New York. (In May 2011, he recorded a video for the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign.) Since then, the retired skater has focused his energies on promoting Athlete Ally's message of combating homophobia in sports.
Like Sean Avery and Steve Nash, the NFL's record-holder for single season sacks (and the current co-host of Live With Kelly and Michael) filmed a spot for the New Yorkers for Marriage campaign. He said, "I feel it's unfair to keep committed couples from being married."
Salley made a second career out of mouthing off on TV, but he dropped the gas-bag sports talk for a few lighthearted words supporting gay marriage during an appearance on Good Day LA in 2010. "I think gay marriage, same-sex marriage is important," he said. Then came the comedy: "Let them go through what we go through," he added, alluding to the less glamorous side of the married life. Salley also appeared alongside fellow Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox on RuPaul's Drag Race, which might as well be another form of support for equal rights.
Irvin appeared on the cover of Out magazine in July 2011 and spoke out for LGBT rights and marriage equality, citing the death of his gay brother as motivation. He also said he would support any athlete who comes out: "No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with. When we start talking about equality, and everybody being treated equally, I don't want to know an African-American who will say everybody doesn't deserve equality."
Always candid and often comedic, Barkley has professed his support for gay marriage and gay rights in his own endearing style for many years. In 2006, Barkley said: "I think if they want to get married, God bless them. Gay marriage is probably one percent of the population, so it's not like it's going to be an epidemic." On air in 2011, he said: "God bless the gay people. They are great people." And in response to Sean Avery's advocacy, Barkley added that he wouldn't have a problem playing with an openly gay teammate.
Last year, Banks and Dent, along with former NFL linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brendon Ayanbadejo, signed a letter showing support for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Act, urging state legislators in the Illinois House of Representatives to pass a bill that would allow gay marriage. A portion of the letter reads: "Treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is."
NOH8 (No Hate) is a silent protest created in response to California's passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. In the five years since it launched, NOH8 has grown to include nearly 33,000 faces, with noteworthy athletes including San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain, New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and NBA Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas.